The main conference room in the Town Hall was so silent they could have heard a pin drop. Dale Farmington felt a crushing weight on his chest. It grated on his nerves that the Chamber of Commerce had been so easily suckered in by the likes of Harold Martin. Looks like old Harry has managed to spread his poison, not just to Sylvia but to others in the community. They’ll be sorry when they get swindled out of their hard- earned money like I did, all those years ago. It’ll serve them right too, he thought as he glared at the den of thieves. He wanted to get up and walk out but a bizarre, slightly morbid, desire to learn what all the others knew kept him in his seat. On the screen, a young man with brilliant white teeth smiled and introduced himself.
“Good evening, I’m Trevor Gutierrez and you’re watching Neighborhood News. I’m here on the ninth floor of County Hospital for an exclusive interview with the mystery woman rescued by our Chief of Police, Thomas Grady. Speculations have run wild since we first aired that amateur video a few days ago but only your Neighborhood News team has the truth. Now, come with me and meet one of the bravest women I’ve ever had the privilege to interview….Mrs. Sylvia Farmington.”
“Noooo,” the Mayor hissed.
The interview proceeded and Sylvia held nothing back. She divulged secrets about the town council and her husband. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she blabbed about the rejection of Chief Grady’s request for additional deputies.
“If it wasn’t for Chief Grady, I’d be just another statistic, a casualty of the ocean.” Sylvia confided as her eyes welled with tears. “I’ve spoken with some of the other people Chief Grady and his deputies saved. All of us were treated with such compassion and dignity. For many, this was their first real interaction with someone who gave selflessly and wanted nothing in return. They told me that back at the police station, Sharon Grady, the chief’s wife, had coffee, sandwiches and homemade cookies waiting for them. Doesn’t it seem like such a tragedy that these people work so hard to save lives and they can’t even get some extra help? Can you imagine how many more lives would have been saved if Chief Grady’s continued pleas for additional staff had been met?”
Harold Meeker stopped the video and another member of council turned on the lights. An awkward silence hovered thick and heavy in the air. Dale Farmington, Mayor for the past seven years, avoided direct eye contact with everyone in the room by staring at his shoes.
Look, Dale,” William Sterling III finally called out, breaking the silence. “We have no other choice. We’d like you to tender your resignation, bow out gracefully and retain some dignity, but if you won’t… we’ll have no choice but to have you removed from office. You don’t have to give us an answer right this minute. We’re giving you until noon tomorrow to decide but I sincerely hope you’ll do the right thing and email that letter to us, tonight. We have a press conference scheduled for tomorrow at one so-”
Former-Mayor Dale Farmington stood and walked out of the room without saying a word. How’s that for retaining my dignity, he thought as he strolled out to his car as if he didn’t care. He’d managed to maintain the illusion until he reached out to unlock his car door. His hands were trembling so badly that he dropped his keys.
In the safely of his vehicle, the first crack in his veneer started to show. A single tear slid down Dale’s cheek and though he brushed it away angrily, more followed. Speeding across town, eyes blurry from the unfettered flow of tears, he prayed for a car accident or an alien abduction- anything to end the hurt and prevent the inevitable humiliation that was coming. Much to his dismay, nothing happened. Dale returned unscathed to an empty home. Without Sylvia, the house was dark and there was no dinner waiting. He pulled a bottle of Scotch from the cabinet and poured a full glass. He downed it and poured another and then another. Lather, rinse, repeat, he scoffed before pounding a few more. His inner monologue ranted about the gall of Harold being at the meeting. No doubt he’s behind this ploy to boot me out of office. Town’s savior, what a joke!
To numb the bitter sting of injustice, he poured another drink and grumbled to himself about how the world was against him.
With a belly full of top shelf Scotch, Dale staggered to his office and booted up his computer. By sheer willpower and a lot of help from spell-check, the former mayor managed to type a semi-coherent letter of resignation and email it to his secretary, Marsha.
Across town, Chief Grady and his deputies had another packed house. They’d managed to “arrest” twice as many people as the previous night. Just like before, Sharon and Francine were on hand to help and also to serve food and beverages to the huge crowd of people. Staff from the Psychiatric Department had also volunteered to pitch in and help.
“If this keeps up,” Dr. Garrett whispered to Grady. “We’re going to need more than one floor of the hospital. I can tell you that much.”
If it wasn’t so tragic, Grady might have laughed but the truth behind the doctor’s words was too heartbreaking.
Several hours later, once the police station had emptied out, Chief Grady bid good night to his staff and those from the hospital. Exhausted and bleary-eye, he gratefully accepted when Sharon offered to drive home.
“I’m so glad I get to sleep in tomorrow. Kline and Barker said they’d hold down the fort first thing in the morning and I’m gonna head in ‘round noonish.”
His words came slow and slurred as he tried to stay awake for the very short drive. When they reached their home, Sharon playfully pretended to haul her husband out of the passenger side and allowed him to lean heavily against her for the few feet to the front door.
“This sort of reminds me of our younger days when I was pregnant with Tommy. You’d drink and I’d drag you into the house,” Sharon laughed. “Boy, am I glad college kids are too busy being having fun to watch the news. You know he’d come straight home if he knew what was going on and I want him to stay far away until this mess is over.”
“Me too, Babe. Me too.”
Grady changed out of his uniform and crawled into bed next his wife. He gave Sharon a kiss, fluffed up his pillow and reached for the remote.
“Oh, Tom, no! What are you doing? You hate the Neighborhood News team, especially Sue Taylor. Why are you torturing yourself?”
“A little bird told me I’m going to want to see this broadcast,” Chief Grady replied. “Shh, just listen.”
“Good evening, I’m Amanda Silverberg with the Neighborhood News team, covering for Sue Taylor as she is…on vacation. Tonight, we have a special, on location report from our own, Trevor Gutierrez”
The brief pause and fluttering eyelids of Amanda Silverberg, as she read from the teleprompter that Sue Taylor was “on vacation”, was so subtle that those who didn’t know Sue had been fired would have missed it. Earl, the camera man, had called Chief Grady to share the good news.
Sharon was just about to click off the television when Sylvia’s segment was cued. The Gradys watched, slack-jawed and teary-eyed as the former “first lady” of their beachfront community laid bare her soul.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Trevor Gutierrez implored. “Please, if you or someone you know is considering suicide…I beg you, please, call the number on your screen right now. There are men and women standing by who want to help. There’s always a better solution. I’m Trevor Gutierrez for your Neighborhood News team…We’re your neighbors and we care!”
“Wow,” Thomas Grady whispered. “Sylvia did a brave thing. When you see her tomorrow, you be sure to give her a big hug from me. I only wish I had the time to go over there and do it myself.”